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How Safe and Effective is Kojic Acid for Skin Lightening Compare to Hydroquinone?

Updated on March 6, 2016

Kojic Acid Cream for Skin Lightening

A woman using a kojic acid cream to whiten her skin.
A woman using a kojic acid cream to whiten her skin. | Source

Kojic Dipalmitate vs. Kojic Acid for Skin Whitening

When used in skin care products, kojic acid generally functions as an agent for lightening skin color. Some cosmetic companies prefer to use the more stable kojic dipalmitate, because kojic acid can become discolored and is less effective when exposed to air or bright sunlight. Although it’s easily absorbed by the skin, and is beneficial as an antioxidant, there is no evidence that kojic dipalmitate is as effective as kojic acid for skin lightening.

Kojic acid has been widely used for skin care products ever since it was discovered in 1989, and it is known to have many benefits. Kojic acid is a by-product of the process of fermenting rice for Sake, an alcoholic drink popular in Japan. It’s a white substance made up of many tiny chrystals and it comes from a type of fungi native to Japan.

In order to understand why kojic acid is effective, it’s necessary to understand what makes skin light or dark in color. Melanin is a pigment produced through cells in the body known as melanocytes. How much melanin is produced by these cells is determined by our genes. In a dark-skinned person they produce a much greater amount of melanin than will be found in the skin of someone with a lighter skin.

Kojic Acid Soap, Cream, and Lotion

Kojic acid-based products
Kojic acid-based products | Source

Is Kojic Acid Really Safe for Skin Lightening?

Although kojic acid is considered to be generally safe for skin-lightening, there are some side effects that you need to consider. If you use it over a prolonged period, the kojic acid in a skin-lightening product may cause skin irritation. Your skin could become sensitive, sore, red and itchy. Kojic acid can also turn skin lighter than you might want, and your original skin shade returns when you stop using it.

Dermatologists and skin experts say that kojic acid soaps, containing glycolic acid and lactic acid, are safe to use for skin whitening. It is not counted as one of the things a woman should avoid during pregnancy and there is insufficient evidence to suggest that it contains any cancer-causing carcinogens.

A man who has a severe acne on his right cheek.
A man who has a severe acne on his right cheek. | Source

Kojic Acid for Skin Whitening and Treating and Preventing Pimples

Kojic soap can effectively lighten the skin within three months when it is used regularly, according to OptDerm. It will depend on the color of your skin when you start using it. Visible results take longer for someone with a darker skin than for someone with skin of a lighter shade to start with.

An additional benefit of applying kojic acid to your skin is that it will reduce the pH and increase acidity. This reduces the chances of getting pimples or skin infections, because bacteria that live in an alkaline environment can’t penetrate the pores when skin is more acidic.

Kojic Acid vs. Hydroquinone

The Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology has reported some research which shows that 2 percent hydroquinone is more effective than kojic acid in the treatment of hyper-pigmentation, where skin color is uneven or subject to sunspots. This study also showed that kojic acid is more likely to cause skin sensitivity or an allergic reaction.

The addition of glycolic acid does seem to make a difference. Medscape has reported another study on treatment for hyper-pigmentation. There was no obvious difference in the results for hydroquinone and kojic acid when each one was combined with glycolic acid. Evidence from the same research suggests that kojic acid can be more irritating to the skin than hydroquinone.

If you are thinking of using a product containing hydroquinone, and your skin has a darker tone, you should be aware that there is some concern that hydroquinone might be connected with a condition that causes darkening of the skin, known as ochronosis. If in doubt, consult your dermatologist. A medical review has concluded, after looking into 10,000 cases, that this very rarely happens to people with a lighter skin.

Hydroquinone is also less stable than kojic acid when used in cosmetics. This means that, to be effective, a product containing hydroquinone needs to be tightly sealed in its tube after use and should always be kept at a low temperature. This is another reason why some cosmetic companies prefer kojic acid for their skin-lightening products.

When it comes to kojic acid soap and kojic acid cream, Kojie San and Skin Bright are good options, as many consumers who have tried them are satisfied with the results.

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